Sermon for 2nd Advent -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
I used to be a runner, well, more of a jogger, but, regardless, this story appeals to me because I used to run or jog:
A man was running in the countryside. It was a beautiful day. The air was cool and comfortable. The run was going well. The man soon experienced what runners call a “runner’s high” and it felt great! What a great run!
However, because it was such a good run, the man got lost in his thoughts and did not pay attention to where he was running. Before he knew it, he had run right off a cliff!
And, just like in an old cartoon, the man went down a steep cliff. Finally, in what seemed like minutes but was probably seconds, the man was able to grab onto a lonely branch perhaps half way down the long drop and that stopped his fall. He was hanging on that lonely branch.
There was no way the man could climb up or down. There were no other branches to grab onto, nor were there rocks to grab or any place to find footing. He could not let go because the drop would kill him. He could not climb back up. He was stuck.
The man looked up and looked down. Finally, he called out, looking up, “Is anybody up there?” There was no answer. Then, the man looked down and yelled, “Is anybody down there?” Again, no answer.
The man was hanging on for dear life, literally. He called out again, “Is anyone up there?” “Is anyone down there?” No answer.
Finally, after yelling up numerous times, a voice responded to his plea, “Is anyone up there?” The voice said, “Yes, I am here.” “Can you help me?” the man asked. Yes, said the voice, I can. “Let go of the branch!” “What!” the man said. “Let go of the branch. I am God. I will catch you. I will take care of you.”
The man thought about what God had just said a long time. Then, he looked up and said, “Is anyone else up there?”
The biblical words “hope” and “wait” are key words for this season of Advent. They are, however, not passive words, at least not in their biblical usage, but active ones. Eric Fromm, the psychologist, called hope “the crouched tiger, which will jump when the moment for jumping has come.” Ernest Campbell, a well-known preacher, described wait in a similar active vein – the biblical notion of waiting is like a cat crouching, still and silent, every muscle bunched and ready, “poised to press into new and unknown places.” The importance here, says Campbell, is not the cat but its posture.
That is the picture of the spirit for a Christian who is waiting and hoping for our Lord – poised to press into new and unknown places.
Many of us here today have Christmas hopes: we are hoping for a particular gift or gifts, we are hoping that a certain friend or relative will write or call or stop in over the holidays, we are hoping for relief from a pain we feel, whether it be a physical or emotional pain, we are hoping for peace in our family as we gather in the spirit of this season - Lots of hopes.
Christian hope rests on these foundations: First, God’s promise of presence, “arise, shine, for your light has come … Unto us a child is born … One shall come after me …” Second, “The Lord has anointed me to bring good news …” All these wondrous words celebrate this season of hope.
Another foundation stone is found in John the Baptist’s preaching: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And Peter’s words, “Repent … and you will receive … for the promise is to you and your children.” Repentance is not a very cheerful word for this joyous season, but hope is, and human hope begins with repentance, for repentance says we are capable of change. There is dignity and responsibility in that. And out of that comes hope.
Our hope is for ourselves and for others also. It would be much easier if we could ignore the issue of justice for December, especially in these last weeks before Christmas, but, if we take the Christmas story seriously, we have to remember that it has two dimensions. The wise men, the shepherds and the holy family represent one dimension. The mothers of Bethlehem, Herod, and the Roman soldiers represent the other dimension. The second group is a side of the Christmas story most often forgotten. Jesus’ birth brought the slaughter of innocent children in Bethlehem. Jesus came to bring hope for earthly justice to all innocent children and adults everywhere. The words of Isaiah come to mind here:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”
Thus, while we celebrate the coming of light, we must recall the reality of darkness. That darkness will overcome many this Christmas. This is a particularly dark time for African Americans in our country. And wars continue over much of this world. ISIS is continuing its violence across Syria and Iraq. “Bring Back our Girls” efforts in Nigeria have not resulted in any kidnapped girls release. Ebola, while more under control than it was just weeks ago, continues to kill hundreds in western Africa. Violence against women and children appears to continue unabated, not only overseas, but even in our country. December, 2014, is a time of darkness for far too many people in this world.
Yes, darkness will overcome many this Christmas. However, the opposite of hope is not hopelessness or the absence of hope. No, the opposite of hope is cynicism, that subtle sin which nibbles our souls until they are tattered and diminished. Hope is the mental ingredient for life and growth. It presses forward with determination and confidence. The prophet announces the coming of a wondrous commander, and that commander will rally his forces to march for peace and justice.
When I served on the staff of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod, Kris and I lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in that city’s colonial historic district. It was a wonderful place to live and is the home of the Moravian Church internationally. We often walked the streets of downtown Bethlehem as our after dinner exercise. Several of the homes we passed on these walks were equipped with a wondrous contraption which looked like a double or triple rear view mirror from a car or truck, but was mounted outside of a home’s second story window. With such a mirror a person inside of the house, even from inside of the second floor, can look to see who is standing at their front door on the street level.
Fortunately or unfortunately, we do not have such a mirror for our lives. Our preparations for whatever is coming into our lives must be made without knowing exactly what is coming into the doorway of our lives. Without such knowledge we wait and we have hope. As Christians, we have hope in the Lord, hope that can even overcome all the darkness which may seem to surround us. Hope that tells us that God Himself will not ultimately fall victim to our stupidity and greed and violence, that God’s presence will empower even meek folks like us to dare and to die to self, that the world might have a fresh hope.
With such a hope we go on, confident in God’s power in and over our lives, sure of the certain and final triumph of our Lord over sin and death and all evil, waiting for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We wait. We hope. We even let go of that branch.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for 2nd Advent
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
November 6-7, 2014
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica